This season we have been reflecting on 10 Years at Oteley Road - to celebrate this we will be bringing you an exclusive interview with a player from the last decade. Today it is Luke Daniels!
Luke Daniels may have only made 42 appearances for Town in all competitions, but it only takes one game to make yourself a hero.
The likes of Chris Weale and Chris Neal may have played more time than the young West Bromwich Albion loanee, but it is Luke’s name that still gets spoken about on the terraces. Whenever Town go back to Gigg Lane you hear people reminiscing about the day that Daniels guided Town to Wembley. That performance came at the end of Luke’s first full-season as a number one goalkeeper in the Football League and it’s a year that he still looks upon fondly now.
“It was only a year, but it wasn’t a bad year,” Luke told Town Talk.
“When I arrived I really liked it. We were obviously in the new stadium and I had a good long chat with the manager and I was really looking forward to it. It was the first loan for me where I was going in as a number one to play games, so it was quite exciting.
“You can play as much football as you want, but until you are playing real football it’s not the same, so it was a great opportunity for me and I was really excited about getting there and getting some games in.
“When you are in the Academy systems it’s a lot about performance and the results don’t tend to matter as much, so to go into a team where it really matters week in week out was good and the Gaffer gave me lots of help along the way.”
Daniels was only 20 when he arrived at what was then called the Prostar Stadium. It seemed a big ask for someone of his age to become a number one in a team, which included the likes of Grant Holt, Paul Murray, Graham Coughlan and Mike Jackson, but Luke believes those experienced figures actually helped make him a better goalkeeper.
“I didn’t really feel the pressure”, Daniels said.
“The experience in front of me helped when I was a young kid, so it was a positive thing really. When you are a kid you just want to get on with it, but they would take to me and tell me when to slow it down and things, so it was really good for my development.
“I think I left the club a better ‘keeper than when I joined and I must have done something right because Coughlan took me to Southend when he was there, so I must have impressed him to some extent, so it’s good that I managed to gain the respect of a senior pro.”
Daniels had enjoyed a good season as Town reached the play-offs, but it was on the 10th May 2009 that he made himself a hero with Town fans. In normal time, Daniels saved Phil Jevons' spot kick before Kevin McIntyre struck late to send the game into extra-time. However, when Steve Leslie was red carded just seconds into the extra period it appeared that Town’s hopes were dashed. It took an inspired performance from Daniels, who pulled off save after save in extra-time to give Town hope. Then it was all down to penalties and it was Luke again who proved to be the hero saving from Danny Racchi and Andy Bishop as Town went through the Wembley. Daniels admits it was probably the best performance he has ever put in.
“That’s still one of the highlights of my career really”, said Luke.
“It was one of them where everything just seemed to go well for me. Games like that don’t happen very often – where you end up saving three penalties and about 20-odd shots on target – so it was nice to contribute and get through to the final.
“Obviously, I was to blame for their goal in the first leg, so that put a bit more pressure on me going into the second leg, so it was relief as much as anything that I had managed to help contribute to us turning the tie around and getting through.
“We did have a really good group that year and we never thought that we weren’t going to get through, even though a lot of people were saying that we were done-for after the first leg, but that wasn’t something that we felt and obviously we went onto prove that.”
A couple of weeks after that win at Bury, Town fans travelled in their numbers to Wembley for the second time in three years. Gillingham were the opponents but Simeon Jackson’s header from Josh Wright’s corner in the 89th minute meant the Gills were promoted to League One, much to the disappointment of Daniels.
“The manner of the defeat – a last minute header – made it hard to take”, reflected Daniels.
“It is what it is unfortunately. Someone’s got to lose and unfortunately on that day they just seemed to pip us to it.
“I’d been to Wembley a couple of years before on the bench with West Brom in the play-off final, so I kind of had an idea about what the occasion was like, but to be out there playing was another really good experience that I take away from my time with Shrewsbury.”
It’s now nearly 10 years since the cries of ‘Luke, Luke, Luke Daniels’ were heard at the Montgomery Waters Meadow, but Luke still holds the club dearly and he believes that his spell with the club set him up well for the future.
“I think Shrewsbury always holds a special place for me because it was the first time that I established myself as a number one in League football”, admitted Luke.
“I obviously moved up into League One and pushed on and tested myself a bit more. Different clubs have different tests and I’ve been in relegation battles, I’ve been in promotion chasing teams, so I’ve pretty much encompassed everything since.
“But, it was my first attempt at playing football in the Football League and I got 40-odd games in my first full-season, which was really good and it’s somewhere that I hold in high regard. I’ve been there in pre-season friendlies and a few league games and it’s a club that I always enjoy coming back to.”